Sidrah Rana, Contributor

This submission is part of the Trin Reads Initiative, organized by Trinity Times and the Trinity Heads of College. Community members were invited to read a book over Reading Week and write a short reflection or book review. 

5/5 stars

“Mercy is weakness. Offer it to your enemies and you might as well fall upon your own sword.”

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir, a Pakistani-American author, is the second book in the fast-paced, epic, dark fantasy series An Ember in the Ashes. The story takes place immediately after the events of the first book. Elias and Laia face their toughest challenges from the Martial Empire, while Helene is at a crossroads with a deadly choice of loyalty.

“I realize I am not staring into his eyes. I am staring into my future. I see it for a moment. Pain. Suffering. Horror. All that I love, all that matters to me, awash in blood.”

This book was magnificent. It didn’t suffer from second book syndrome and instead, is one of those rare works where the sequel was impossibly better than the first book. The brutality of the militaristic rule of the Empire is darker and more gut-wrenching in this book, with tragedy surrounding the characters at every turn.

The pacing of this story really stood out, with the tension constantly nail-biting. This was one of those stories where outside of the plot, the way the story was told is what made it near perfection.

“But you, Helene Aquilla, are no swift-burning spark. You are a torch against the night – if you dare to let yourself burn.

Helene faced a hellish journey and task, and the wonderful addition of her POV and dilemma quickly made her my favourite character in the book. She’s clever, a powerful fighter and a military leader, but is also full of carefully-concealed humanity. She makes mistakes, and is blind to certain moral codes due to her upbringing. However, it’s this very quality that makes her one of the best characters because she is willing to reflect and introspect, even in spite of the horrible circumstances she is placed in.

Tahir’s brilliant prose is one that I can speak to endlessly. It’s rare to find first-person POV in fantasy, but somehow Tahir manages to worldbuild cleverly without info-dumping. She expands the dimensions of her characters, while masterfully depicting a beautifully dark world, and leaving many heart-stopping one-liners.

I cannot recommend this series enough. It has been a long time since I have felt this passionate about a series. If you read the first book and are on the fence about it, just know that it is a prelude to a much darker, grander plot and world, and powerful characters. 

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